Disney+ reaches 86.8 million paying subscribers and the price will go up in March
Disney is still committed to theatrical release windows, but execs signaled that could change.
Disney's streaming service continues to grow at a rapid pace: The streaming service now has 86.8 million paying subscribers, Disney CEO Bob Chapek announced at the company's annual investor day on Thursday. Disney also announced a new Star-branded streaming service that is being integrated into Disney+ in some territories, and a slight price increase: Disney+ will cost $7.99, up from $6.99, starting next March. Pricing in other territories will also increase.
Star will be available as part of Disney+ in Western Europe, Canada and New Zealand starting in February. Star will offer a number of Disney shows and movies currently available to U.S. audiences on Hulu; consumers will have to unlock the content because it includes R-rated titles and other content that stands out from the family-friendly Disney+ fare.
Star won't be part of Disney+ everywhere: The company will be making a standalone Star+ service available in Latin America. Disney is adopting the brand from India, where it acquired Hotstar last year, and used it as a key driver for Disney+ adoption. One-third of all Disney+ subscribers are currently located in India, said Disney International DTC Chairman Rebecca Campbell: "Our launches around the world have been a key factor to subscriber growth to date."
Disney executives also used the event to give investors an update on the company's other streaming services. Hulu now has 38.8 million subscribers, including 4 million who pay for the company's live TV service. ESPN+ reached 11.5 million subscribers by early December.
This puts Disney years ahead of its own forecasts for its direct-to-consumer businesses. When Disney first announced plans to launch Disney+, the company predicted that it would reach between 60 million and 90 million subscribers by 2024. The company had planned to reach 40 million to 60 million subscribers for Hulu by 2024, as well as 8 million to 12 million for ESPN+. On Thursday, Disney updated its Disney+ guidance; the company is now expecting the service to have 230 million to 260 million subscribers by 2024.
The latest number drop also means that Disney+ added more than 13 million subscribers over the past two months. Disney executives revealed last month that the service had reached 73.7 million subscribers on Oct. 3, which marked the end of its fiscal fourth quarter.
Disney executives said Thursday that the company was prioritizing its streaming services over other areas of its business going forward. As part of this strategy, Disney committed to the release of a number of original Marvel, "Star Wars" and Disney/Pixar series exclusively on Disney+ over the coming years. In addition, Disney will release 15 live action and animated Disney and Pixar feature films on the service.
However, Disney stopped short of a day-and-date movie release strategy like the one Warner Bros. plans to implement in 2021. WarnerMedia CEO Jason Kilar announced last week that the studio would be releasing all of its movies on HBO Max on the day of their theater premiere — an announcement that caught theater chains like AMC by surprise.
Disney, on the other hand, is still nominally committed to the theatrical window, with some exceptions; the company will release the live-action movie "Raya and the Last Dragon" as a paid premium title on Disney+ when it reaches theaters next March, much like it did with "Mulan" last summer.
Disney media and entertainment distribution chairman Kareem Daniel signaled that the company could adopt similar models for other titles down the road. The company had the ability to "quickly reevaluate" its release strategy, Daniel said, adding that it would ultimately do what was best for consumers.
Update: This article was updated at 5:30 p.m. PT to include more information about guidance and pricing.
Janko Roettgers (@jank0) is a senior reporter at Protocol, reporting on the shifting power dynamics between tech, media, and entertainment, including the impact of new technologies. Previously, Janko was Variety's first-ever technology writer in San Francisco, where he covered big tech and emerging technologies. He has reported for Gigaom, Frankfurter Rundschau, Berliner Zeitung, and ORF, among others. He has written three books on consumer cord-cutting and online music and co-edited an anthology on internet subcultures. He lives with his family in Oakland.